Healthy Eating: A Secret to Longevity

By Ore Taiwo Makinde. Image credit: freepik.

Growing old is inevitable. We all yearn to live long and celebrate certain milestones which have become a societal norm. We pray to be kept from being part of the alarming and ever-rising statistics of sudden death from violence and disease.

Comparing the life expectancy of two countries

Recently, I watched a documentary on “Longevity in Japan” where over two million of their population is over 90 years of age and the average life expectancy is 84.2 years. Japan has the largest ageing population with an elderly population of over 27% in a population of approximately 126 million people.

Let’s come home to Nigeria. United Nations data indicate that 3.1% of Nigeria’s 204 million people are elderly. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy for Nigeria in 2019 was 54.49 years, a 0.58% increase from 2018. Even poverty -stricken and war-ravaged countries are reported to have higher life expectancy rates. Contributing factors to the low life expectancy in Nigeria include the high maternal mortality rates, inadequate health facilities and medical professionals for a teeming population. I cannot but mention the tragic loss of human lives from heightened violence and mindless killings.

Nonetheless, every now and then, we come across certain people whose looks belie their age. Recently, someone pointed out to me a past President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He turned 83 this year but he is still very agile and doesn’t quite look his age. Another notable personality is the RCCG General Overseer whose look belies his age. I also meet unrenown personalities day after day with similar characteristics whereas many others who look far older than their age.
Is there a reason for this contrast or it is just in the genes? Have you ever thought that health and longevity had anything to do with wealth? If so, why do the wealthy and even those with access to foreign health resources suddenly slump in the prime of life?

The reason for a high life expectancy rate in Japan

The above answer to this question takes us back to the documentary where the Japanese are reported to have the lowest obesity rate in the world. This is principally as a result of their food choices and lifestyle habits. Their diet was depicted as being predominantly plant-based consisting seasonal fruits and vegetables with less of processed foods.
They love fish far above meat and consume far more seafood than most countries in the world. Scientific research shows that obesity and increased meat intake especially processed meats like sausage and bacon increase the risk for chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Examples of NCDs include hypertension,  diabetes,  high cholesterol,  cancers, particularly breast and colon cancers.  According to WHO, NCDs account for 63% of all deaths globally with 80% of these deaths occurring in low and middle income countries.

Diets that favour a higher life expectancy and longevity

Can we take a look at our diet today? In case you are wondering what the recommendations are, stay with the following tips:

  • Increase your daily portions of fruits and vegetables. Prefer fruit snacks such as cucumber,  carrots, egg plants, etc to fattening pastries, biscuits and chocolates.
  • Prefer water to other fluids particularly alcohol and calorie-filled drinks.
  • Avoid processed and canned food as far as it is possible. They usually contain much more sodium than you need. Reduce salt intake. Reduce frying which increases saturated or what we call ‘bad’ fat.
  • Grow your grains and prefer home-cooked meals except on occasion.
  • Reduce consumption of red meat and take more of oily fish like mackerel and sardines which contain heart-healthy or ‘good’ fat.
  • Include a handful of nuts and seeds in your diet 2-3 times a week. These include almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashew nuts, flaxseeds, etc.

In conclusion, many factors contribute to longeivity. Diets are a major modifiable factor in aging. It is a matter of choice. What would you choose?

Dr Ore Taiwo Makinde is a Consultant Family Physician and certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician. She is the founder of Lifestyle Champions International.